Jeff Markiewicz On August 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm

StarCraft is an amazing example of how much life a well-supported title can have. It was released in 1998 and it still has a large community playing, even with its sequel out on the market. When it came out, it was pitted against the Command and Conquer series and now that franchise is simply an afterthought. StarCraft 2 comes out at a time of change in the real-time strategy genre. Classic mechanics have been started to be placed on the back-burner for more action-oriented games. Can StarCraft 2 succeed with this old style of gameplay or has it merely gotten too stale?

The story picks up with Jim Raynor, 4 years after the conclusion of the first StarCraft. Those who have forgotten the story or never played the first title, like me, will be treated to a recap during the installation. You start off continuing your rebellion against the corrupt Dominion Terran government with Raynor’s Raiders. Along the way you take some side jobs to fuel your war machine but an old friend comes along and offers you a job to collect ancient artifacts from across the universe. Following the rabbit hole leads you to something much bigger and important than your rebellion. The story follows a relatively generic arc. It has a definite Firefly, space cowboy vibe and it really works well. The story can be quite cheesy at times, especially with one-liners are frequently thrown out. Most characters are one-dimensional and are confined to expected roles. Those expecting something deep and intricate will be disappointed. The cheese is not as severe as the Command and Conquer series but if you have a strong distaste for it, it can hurt some moments. Overall it works well enough, giving you reason to dive in to the excellent gameplay that is in the single-player but you can’t help but wish for something a little more deep.

If you have played StarCraft 1, you know what to expect from this title. StarCraft 2 is a traditional real-time strategy (RTS) game. These games are split up into several parts between your base, economy, and your army. For most, there will be too much to do in too little time so you will constantly have to be working or fall behind. Each category is equally important. If you ignore your base, you won’t be able to produce the units you need to win. If you ignore your economy, you won’t have money to make anything. If you ignore your army then you won’t have enough to stop an oncoming attack. On top of these are the strategies that must be employed to win. Some strategies employ a macro, big picture approach while others employ micro. Micro is essentially maneuvering units to get the most for your money, which requires much more attention but can be devastating. It can get overwhelming at times but it never becomes a chore. Some things are nicely automated to help like SCVs automatically repairing nearby units and if any workers are sitting idle, the game lets you know. Whereas Command & Conquer may be a game of checkers, StarCraft 2 is a game of chess. Most won’t understand all the facets of the gameplay but it does not stop the enjoyment.

There same three races are back from the first game. You have the Terran, which employ a traditional army philosophy of brute force. The Protoss has a futuristic mobile army. The last race is the Zerg which is a massive, quickly evolving and fast army. These descriptions are quite primitive though since they are composed of so many different facets. This differs much from a Command & Conquer where it’s relatively easy to point out which stereotype a particular side is fulfilling. Here each side plays incredibly different. There is such a void between the different play styles that it will take some time to adjust and learn. Terran, which the campaign focuses on, are the easiest and the Zerg are the hardest with Protoss somewhere in the middle. They differ in how the bases are set up to how you produce units and the army composition. Blizzard doesn’t resort to giving identical units to each side for balance and should be commended. Interestingly, the ratio of races online seems to vary from newbie to pro but they all seem to slightly favor Terran currently but at least in the lower league, it never feels like the game is unbalanced. There are hard counters and soft counters. Scouting is incredibly important to find a composition to tackle the opposition. Paired with a good strategy, anyone can dominate. While Zerg are the least played by the lower leagues, it has a big showing on the leaderboards in Korea. And if StarCraft 1 is any indication of how things are, Blizzard will continue to tweak the game for years to come.

The campaign of this title tells the story from the Terran point of view therefore it’s composed of largely only their missions. There is a very short Protoss campaign that’s weaved into the story though which is nice. The gameplay is a story of two quite different games. On-mission you have the traditional real-time strategy game that will occupy most of your time. Off-mission is more of an adventure game with you talking to your shipmates, improving your army, and selecting which mission you want to take on next amongst some other nice touches. Paired together they work very well and make the game feel very human.

The mission structure follows the classic RTS mission design almost to a fault. The beginning missions have you marching a couple lowly soldiers around doing incredibly easy things. Then they slowly add in new units and base building with only a couple buildings before letting you off your leash. It’s a tried and true design that works very well but can be a little boring initially before you realize the amazing mission variety that’s yet to come. There are traditional missions where it’s simply to destroy some enemy structure but then there are others where you have to hold off waves of enemies or collect a certain amount of resources. Each mission typically has side objectives which will net you research points to spend on your ship. If you have purchased any mercenary contracts, you’ll be able to call in their support from a special structure that’s only available in single player. It really helps, especially if you didn’t tech for the units you need right now. The locations you go to definitely help spice up the mix with a couple forcing you to actually relocate your base to avoid environmental hazards. There are a couple no base missions later on but they are designed well enough that losing a person here or there doesn’t doom you to failure. One of the really cool things that appear to be going on in most of the missions is that the enemy is limited to the same rules that you are and have their own bases to collect resources and produce units. It’s a real nice gesture when they could’ve taken the easy route. There are two issues that crop up though, first almost every mission gives you a new unit to play with and then the mission will be structured to be won using this unit. This makes for some one-sided ways to victory and hence limits replayability a bit. The second is that at the end of some missions, a short in-engine cutscene will show part of the map under attack by a large mass of enemies which were not there when you were playing. It just looks really cool and makes you wonder why you aren’t allowed to play that. It’s only in some later missions that you’ll get swarmed with such a large amount of units which is disappointing.

Off mission is more of an adventure game where you navigate between the different areas of your ship talking to people and improving your army. You view the world from third-person and clicking on people will let them talk. Each mission will earn your money to purchase upgrades from the armory. These will improve existing units and structures with some nice perks. Most missions will have samples to collect which will yield research points to use towards two trees, one for the Zerg and other for Protoss. When you collect 5 samples, you will have a choice between getting one of two things and adds a nice touch or replayability to see what the others things do. They come in the form of general upgrades to existing units but can sometimes come in the form of completely new units and structures. After unlocking some new units, you’ll be able to purchase mercenary contracts too. They come in handy during missions. Rounding out the experience are newscasts to watch, a cool minigame to play, and little factoids about units and relics from previous missions. Initially it may come off kind of static but it grows on you and it makes the whole game a nice cohesive package.

Since the single-player contains units, structures, and abilities that are only available in single player, it’s not really conducive to helping you survive online. Therefore there are several challenges for each race. These help you practice which units counter which, economy efficiency, and micro. They’re really useful for anyone trying to understand the complex dynamics of the gameplay. You also have the option of doing a traditional straight up match against the AI which will further help you learn the races and how to utilize them online.

There is a complete new online infrastructure for StarCraft 2 called 2.0. This system is completely feature-rich, akin to an Xbox Live or Steam. You have a friends list which you can pull up anytime to chat with friends. You can set up a party and pull them along to games via invites. If you need help getting friends, you can sign in through Facebook and it will pull a list of people who have the game from there. There are single-player and multiplayer achievements to gain and avatar pictures to unlock. There is even support for voice should to wish to use it. There are leagues and matchmaking which appears to be set up quite intelligently. You can play custom maps and look through a list of available games if you don’t want to leave map selection or game mode up to matchmaking. You can download custom maps, some of which significantly change up the game. The future should hold some very promising creations at the rate we’re going now. It works really well and is perfectly integrated into the game. The only issues appear to be that you’re unable to chat with a paused game. You’re simply unable to access the service at that time which is disappointing if you’re in a hectic campaign mission. The other issue that that matchmaking doesn’t seem to work as well as it should.

Instead of working your way up the ranks like other games, 2.0 attempts to ascertain your current skill level and place you accordingly via several placement matches. After 5 placement matches, you’re thrown into a league of your peers supposedly on par with you. You have to repeat this for each mode and if you’re playing with your friends in the 2v2 up to 4v4. It’s a neat solution to finding your skill immediately rather than just letting people build up rank over time. Unfortunately it doesn’t feel like it works as well as it should. I come from a history of playing RTS titles and frequently watch StarCraft matches on youtube. I even checked out some good openings and while I admit I still suck, I should at least be winning half of my games if the system works. Well after a couple dozen games, I have lost nearly all of them. I do feel like I have somewhat of a chance and if I see a particular strategy, I know enough to try to fix it the next time but considering I am in the bottom league, I feel bad for anyone who has come straight off the boat and are new to RTS titles.

The big issue with 3D RTS titles was that they never looked as good as their 2D counterparts and were resource intensive. Well now with StarCraft 2, I believe we’ve finally reached the point to where we are finally surpassing the quality of those old 2D titles. The game looks simply amazing. The scalability of the graphics is amazing, low-end machines and high-end alike will be able to enjoy this game. Even when the screen gets chaotic, the frame rate stays smooth. The units all look distinct and unique. Each race has their own visual style and are easily identified the instant you see them. Off-mission on the Hyperion looks great too. The faces look and are animated great. It does come off a little static though but you look past that. The only annoyance is one of the random NPCs walking through the same door nearly every time you visit the area with the same exact animation. It gets repetitive quickly. Overall it’s a real visual treat despite some minor blemishes.

The sound design is quite good. Each race has a nice distinct sound. The Terrans have a nice industrial rumble sound to them. Protoss sound vehicles sound robotic and futuristic. Zerg sound similarly organic. There will never be a mistake about which race you’re playing. Voice acting for the main characters is all quite good despite fulfilling their cliché archetypes. The voices for some miscellaneous on-mission parts can be kind of bad, even for trying to be cheesy. The music, if you listen to it off of the soundtrack sounds quite good. It’s all orchestrated and has a real nice big budget action movie feel to it. Unfortunately, some of the tracks seem eerily similar to several tracks off of the Transformers film and most importantly it doesn’t seem to translate well into the game. At a couple parts it kicks in and you notice it but for the most part, you just block it out. To be honest after finishing the game I could barely recognize any of the tracks which is weird because they are actually pretty good despite being a little generic.

Blizzard has done it again. They have proved with StarCraft 2 that the classic RTS formula is as relevant today as it has ever been. The story can be generic and cliché at times but it has enough great gameplay to keep you going through it. The Firefly, space cowboy vibe is nice and fits well. The three races play extremely different and are well-balanced. When you do something wrong, the game provides you with enough tools to understand why. Multiplayer is top notch and you have tons of options at your finger tips with the robust 2.0. The graphics are amazing and scale well to almost any modern machine. The sound is great except for a couple bad miscellaneous voiceovers and that the soundtrack is easily toned out during the game despite being quite decent. StarCraft 2 delivers on all fronts and coming from Blizzard, you know this game is going to last a long time. If you’re even the slightest interesting in real-time strategy games, you owe it to yourself to get this one.


Story is cheesy and relatively generic but well-done. There is a definite Firefly vibe. The gameplay may be overwhelming at times but is amazingly deep and complex. The three races are well-balanced and every strategy can be countered.


Game looks beautiful on and off missions. The CGI cutscenes look amazing but are few in number. Off mission can be a little static though but the characters are well animated and detailed. The game scales quite well from low to high-end systems. Off-mission can be a little static and one NPCs movement is highly repetitive.


Each race has its own distinct feeling and sound. Voice acting for main characters is good except fulfilled generic archetypes. Some on-mission miscellaneous voices can be pretty bad though. The music is on par with movie soundtracks but borrows a bit too much from another movie. Plus you tend to tone it out during the game so if you haven’t checked out the soundtrack, you’d never know it was that decent.


StarCraft 2 is a game of chess, most can become competent but few will actually master. It’s deep and complex. It looks and sounds amazing. This game is going to last a long time. If you’re even the slightest interesting in real-time strategy games, you owe it to yourself to get this one.

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